Monday, October 31, 2011

Blaise Pascal

June 19 1623 - Aug 19 1662
Born Clermont-Ferrand, France. Died Paris, France.

Blaise Pascal's father >(Pascal, Étienne) had unorthodox educational views and decided to teach his son himself. He decided that Pascal was not to study mathematics before the age of 15 and all mathematics texts were removed from their house. Pascal however, his curiosity raised by this, started to work on geometry himself at the age of 12. He discovered that the sum of the angles of a triangle are 2 right angles and, when his father found out he relented and allowed Pascal a copy of Euclid.

At the age of 14 Pascal started to attend Mersenne's meetings. Mersenne belonged to the religious order of the Minims, and his cell in Paris was a frequent meeting place for Fermat, Pascal, Gassendi, and others. At the age of 16 Pascal presented a single piece of paper to one of Mersenne's meetings. It contained a number of projective geometry theorems, including Pascal's mystic hexagon.

Pascal invented the first digital calculator
(1642) to help his father. The device, called the Pascaline, resembled a mechanical calculator of the 1940's.

Further studies in geometry, hydrodynamics, and hydrostatic and atmospheric pressure led him to invent the syringe and hydraulic press and to discover Pascal's law of pressure.

He worked on conic sections and produced important theorems in projective geometry. In correspondence with Fermat he laid the foundation for the theory of probability.

His most famous work in philosophy is "Pensées", a collection of personal thoughts on human suffering and faith in God. 'Pascal's wager' claims to prove that belief in God is rational with the following argument.

"If God does not exist, one will lose nothing by believing in him, while if he does exist, one will lose everything by not believing."

His last work was on the cycloid, the curve traced by a point on the circumference of a rolling circle.

Pascal died at the age of 39 in intense pain after a malignant growth in his stomach spread to the brain.

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